Persian fallow deer
The Persian fallow deer is a rare ruminant mammal belonging to the family Cervidae. Its taxonomic status is disputed, with some maintaining it as a subspecies of the fallow deer, while others treat it as a separate species, Dama mesopotamica, where the Spanish word "Dama" means "fallow deer".
Persian fallow deer are physically larger than fallow deer, their antlers bigger and less palmated. They are nearly extinct today, inhabiting only a small habitat in Khuzestan, southern Iran, two rather small protected areas in Mazandaran (northern Iran), an area of northern Israel and an island in Lake Urmia in north-western Iran and in some parts of Iraq.They were formerly found from Mesopotamia and Egypt to the Cyrenaica and Cyprus. Their preferred habitat is open woodland. They are bred in zoos and parks in Iran, Israel, and Germany today. Since 1996 they have been gradually and successfully reintroduced from a breeding center in the Carmel, into the wild in northern Israel, and more than 650 of them now live in the Galilee, Mount Carmel areas and the Brook of Sorek.Due to the rarity of this species, little information exists on their behavior and social structure in the wild; therefore, most biological information comes from captive-bred or reintroduced deer, which may not present an accurate representation of the natural population.
Factors leading to endangerment
Habitat destruction of tamarisk, oak, and pistachio woodlands, in which the deer are found, have contributed to their population decline. Approximately 10% of their former range still exists for habitation in the present day. The Persian fallow deer is a grazing herbivore, with grass comprising 60% of its diet along with leaves and nuts. Since the Persian fallow deer is a primary consumer in its ecosystem, it is negatively affected by the destruction of the habitat that supports the primary producers on which it feeds. The decline of the Persian fallow deer’s habitat is also likely to have contributed to increased pressure from predators due to the loss of dense areas that can be used as a refuge from predators; this phenomenon has been noted in a similar deer species.
Natural predators of the Persian fallow deer include the Golden jackal, the Arabian wolf, the Caracal, the Striped hyena, and the Syrian brown bear; however, the primary predation pressure on the Persian fallow deer is human poaching.Hunted for sport and for food since the early Neolithic era, the range of the deer was restricted from areas in northern Africa, eastern Europe, and western Asia to only including small regions of western Iran by 1875. The spread of firearms caused a further increase in deer poaching, dropping the population size to what was regarded as the deer’s extinction in the 1940s.
Interspecific competition with domestic livestock, including cattle, has also further reduced the amount of food available to the deer. A study performed in Africa found that densities of the zebra, another herbivore with a diet similar to cattle and to the Persian fallow deer, increased by 46% on average when cattle were removed from a region, which indicates that cattle are strong competitors for food and may be able to exert competitive pressure on the Persian fallow deer.